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A Strip star is born: Lady Gaga will revolutionize the Las Vegas residency

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Bruno Mars didn’t get enough credit. His Las Vegas Strip residency at Park Theater, announced in October 2016 before the release of Grammy Album of the Year 24K Magic, was a raging success at the box office and indisputably one of the most energetic concert events on the Strip, but it didn’t impact the Vegas entertainment scene in a legacy-leaving way.

Mars is back in Vegas for New Year’s Eve with two shows at T-Mobile Arena December 30 and 31, but it appears his July shows at Park Theater will be the last of the residency, which ran concurrently with his recently wrapped 24K Magic World Tour. Bruno in Vegas was special because it was the most glaring example so far of the Strip shedding its dated-entertainment stigma. This is no longer somewhere performers go when they’re past their prime, or some showbiz twilight zone.

Arguably, Mars was the biggest pop star in the world during his time as a Vegas headliner. Celine Dion and Britney Spears have deservedly received credit for recasting and remodeling what it means to star on the Strip, but neither singer has dominated the charts while simultaneously playing Vegas. That’s why Mars didn’t need to create a vastly different production for his residency the way every other star has—his was the hottest name playing the hottest destination in the country, so selling out the 5,200-seat Park Theater was almost a given.

It takes more than ubiquitous hits and a knockout live show to craft a successful musical residency on the star-studded Strip and there’s no perfect equation for a true game-changer. When Dion started at Caesars Palace in 2003 and Spears at Planet Hollywood in 2013, both shows were considered risky endeavors because of the size of the theaters and the number of performances per year. There are always rumors about who could come next, but the truth is there are very few artists who could come to Las Vegas and alter the landscape. At the moment, Lady Gaga is the best choice possible.

Launching December 28 at Park Theater and promoted by Live Nation Entertainment, Gaga’s run was first announced exactly one year ago. Since then, 32 shows have been scheduled through November 9, but Variety initially reported the deal would be 74 shows paying the star $100 million.

Gaga last performed in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena (twice last year) during her Joanne World Tour. Before that, and before her acclaimed Super Bowl 51 Halftime Show spectacular in February 2017, she played a one-night-only engagement of classics and jazz standards at Encore Theater on December 30, 2016.

Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, has sold more than 31 million albums and 171 million singles and is one of the best-selling musicians of all time. Her latest album, Joanne, released in October 2016, became her fourth consecutive chart-topper. She has more than 77 million followers on Twitter and 31.5 million on Instagram. She is exactly the kind of cultural force required to truly impact the Las Vegas entertainment landscape, and here are three reasons why that will happen.

1. Her star is still on the rise

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born (Warner Brothers/Courtesy)

Gaga’s fellow Park Theater headliner Cher won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1988 for Moonstruck. There’s a considerable chance—some would say it’s highly likely—that when Gaga returns for her 12th Vegas show on May 30, she’ll have an Oscar of her own.

Gaga was recently nominated for two Golden Globe Awards (Best Actress and Best Original Song) and for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role at the Screen Actors Guild Awards for her role in A Star Is Born. Despite her pop-culture prominence, Gaga hasn’t done a lot of serious acting, and playing Ally in Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut—a remake of a remake calling back to the 1937 original romantic drama starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March—was her first starring role in a feature film.

If you’ve seen A Star Is Born, you know her performance powers the movie. Cooper is also great as Jack, the addicted, waning rock star who’s finally forced to face his demons when he falls in love, but he’s even better in the director’s role, honing in on the tender, apprehensive romance between the characters and avoiding the maudlin hunks of cheese that might have weighed the movie down. When Ally bravely soldiers through an unimaginable professional embarrassment caused by her husband, it’s easy to see that she’s barely keeping it together. In a rehab facility scene, she fearfully checks to make sure her healing husband wants to come home again, one of the movie’s most authentic and heart-wrenching sequences.

Her intuition and prowess as an actress isn’t altogether surprising given her theatrical concerts, the mind-bending landscapes of her music videos and her consistently daring fashion presentations. “I wanted to be an actress before I wanted to be a singer or musician,” she said during a Hollywood Reporter actress roundtable last month. “In terms of creating the character of Ally, for many years I think I have created characters for myself because I did not make it as an actress.”

Although Lady Gaga and Ally are among those created characters, she’s also talking about constructing a layered story all the way around the performance. “They were always in some way related to the woman that I wanted to sing to, [and still] a part of me. For my album Joanne, I always had this vision of a woman with a baby in one hand and a pinot grigio in the other, in cutoff jeans and her hair wild, just singing her buns off and going, ‘I never thought I’d like Lady Gaga, but man do I love this music.’ So I had a vision for that woman, but for Ally it was totally different because it was a collaborative process.”

Joanne was roundly reviewed as Gaga’s most honest and powerful album, though some fans couldn’t initially connect her previous glammy dance-pop to the stripped-down soft rock on the record. The Super Bowl performance of “Million Reasons” helped build that bridge, and Gaga’s 2014 Cheek to Cheek collaborative jazz album and tour with Tony Bennett predated this more personal musical divergence.

In short, Gaga’s new movie stardom comes at the perfect time, when her creative confidence is at its peak … to date. This is documented in the opening minutes of last year’s enthralling cinema verité-style documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two, which captured the process of recording Joanne and preparing for the Super Bowl.

“I’m in a different time of my life now,” she says while cooking some chicken and talking about relationships. “I feel better than ever. All my insecurities are gone, I don’t feel insecure about who I am as a woman, I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of what I have, I just feel like … all that sh*t is better.”

2. She's doing two completely different shows here

(Chris Pizzello/AP)

Existing in a positive and energetic creative space will certainly inform Gaga’s Las Vegas production, which is actually two different productions at the biggest Strip venue that still feels like a small one.

Other headliners have made wholesale changes for their follow-up shows, including those from Celine Dion, Elton John and Mariah Carey at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. Britney Spears’ new Domination residency at Park Theater, opening in February, should be considerably different from her Piece of Me run at Planet Hollywood. But no modern resident has opened with two distinctly different shows as Gaga is doing.

The primary one, Enigma, which will be performed three times before 2018 is over, is expected to be the big, bold, colorful concert spectacular for which Gaga is known—an over-the-top style of show she originally developed for the Monster Ball Tour of 2009-2011 and that came into its most complete version during the Born This Way Ball tour of 2012-2013. The primary benefit of a Vegas residency over a tour is convenience. When you don’t have to pack up your massive stage show every couple of days, you can really explore some new directions. Park Theater is the newest and most technologically advanced venue on the Strip, so Gaga’s possibilities there are exciting.

There are fewer dates for the more stripped-down and intimate show, Jazz and Piano, than for Enigma, but Gaga recently added five more dates for the former for June, October and November. Jazz and Piano kicks off January 20 and will showcase the diva pianist as she performs jazzier versions of her hits and favorites from the Great American Songbook. If you were hoping to see both shows on back-to-back nights by taking advantage of special ticket offers, you’re too late: The Lady Gaga Full Las Vegas Experience packages are sold out through November 9.

3. She's playing at the hottest property on the strip

(Matt Slocum/AP)

You can’t really turn a Las Vegas casino resort into something completely new. That’s why they tend to get imploded and built fresh. But what MGM Resorts International has done with Park MGM—and you can’t see it yet because you haven’t been to the food wonderland of Eataly or the ridiculously cool On the Record club (see sidebar)—is the best possible effort at making something old new again. Tourists and convention visitors will be talking about luxury escape of NoMad Las Vegas for the majority of 2019, and putting Gaga and Britney in the same room seems almost unfathomable, especially considering Celine is wrapping her iconic residency at the Colosseum next summer and that Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood is limited to Gwen Stefani and the Backstreet Boys as its current music stars. Park Theater has captured the spotlight.

Despite all the development planned in the coming years, the momentum on the Strip has swung south. The heart of Las Vegas today beats from T-Mobile Arena, home of the Vegas Golden Knights (a phenomenon that brings tens of thousands of locals to the Strip every week) and every major concert event touring the country (Metallica and Fleetwood Mac played there in a span of five days last month). Bookended by MGM’s New York-New York and Park MGM resorts, T-Mobile has become emblematic of the next generation of Vegas entertainment, and positioning Park Theater’s just a few steps away has resulted in a powerful and diverse entertainment district within the Strip’s casino-hotel framework.

This piece of Vegas is essentially one big stage, primed for the biggest stars and the most fantastic events in the world, the center of our entertainment universe at least until the Las Vegas Stadium opens in 2020. It’s a safe bet Lady Gaga will be ruling that universe.

New year, new resort

Park MGM is officially the newest resort on the Las Vegas Strip, having completed its transformation from the Monte Carlo this month. With the recent arrival of NoMad Las Vegas—a separate hotel with its own dramatic restaurant, bar and casino—and this week’s opening of chef Roy Choi’s Best Friend restaurant, Park MGM has been the buzziest Strip destination for months. And Lady Gaga’s opening at Park Theater is just one part of a terrific trifecta landing here before New Year’s Eve. The other pieces are …

Eataly. The renowned Italian marketplace and dining extravaganza opens December 27 and will take up more than 40,000 Strip-side square feet at Park MGM. Eataly has everything, from restaurants and bars to a wine shop, a bakery and an assortment of stations serving pizza, pasta, fresh fish and meat.

On the Record. Park MGM’s new club, created with LA hospitality innovators Jonnie and Mark Houston, will be the home of Lady Gaga’s official opening night afterparty on December 28. Its intimate, party-focused, slightly ’70s-themed environment is a very different take for Strip nightlife.

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